The warmth of tributes to Terry Pratchett’s passing – from Neil Gaiman’s sadness at the death of a friend to Nick Harkaway’s exploration of his comedic chops – showed just how loved he was. Broadly ignored by critics and awards, Pratchett was content to write deeply intelligent, complex and hilarious novels that sold and were adored in their millions. I’m sure he coped.
I loved Pratchett as a teen before stupidly putting him to one side for ‘Grown Up’ books. For the past six months I have been making up for my teenage idiocy by reading the Discworld from the start and writing about each book in publication order here. Because Pratchett was the line that links my childhood reading with what I love as an adult. It was time I started looking at that.
There is a myriad of things to love about Discworld but among the best is how it feels like a real place. Even his supporting characters are written with a care and attention that demonstrates his strength as a writer. By way of tribute to Pratchett and his Discworld, I want to put the spotlight on my favourite background players.
1. Cheery Littlebottom
First on the list is easy. It’s CSI: Ankh-Morpork. Cheery is a dwarven forensic expert first seen in Feet of Clay, a character we quickly learn is a woman. Female dwarves have beards and adhere to masculine cultural rules. Sex is, well, confusing. Cheery’s exploration of her femininity, experimenting with heels, make-up and jewellery, could be played for quite offensive laughs.
Pratchett is much better than that. Why Feet of Clay is an amazing book, one of his best, is that it’s about acts of rebellion, from the golem who cannot cope with gaining its own agency and murders as a result, to Vimes, Captain of the City Watch, who refuses to let his butler shave him. Through Cheery looking to break the gender roles dictated to her and the emotional and societal difficulties she faces in doing so, Pratchett humanises the golem’s own struggle and makes the book that much more complex and better as a consequence.